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Format: 04/23/2014
Format: 04/23/2014


The Almanac: Anatomy students get to observe open heart surgery

Friday, May 29th, 2009

By Terry Kish
For The Almanac


Observing open heart surgery or shadowing a nurse may not sound like a typical day in high school, but more and more students considering a career in health care are getting the opportunity to learn about these careers first hand

At Peters Township High School, many students thinking about a career in medicine are choosing to take anatomy & physiology I and II, which are taught by Betsy Gunther. Gunther said students in the semester long anatomy & physiology I start the class with some instruction in Latin to help with medical terminology, learn body systems, participate in a cadaver lab at California University of Pennsylvania, visit West Penn Hospital's simulation lab, and observe open heart surgery at Allegheny General Hospital.

Caitlin Relich, a sophomore at Peters who is taking anatomy & physiology I, recently observed open heart surgery at Allegheny General. 

"It was such a great experience to see it first hand," she said. Relich said it was interesting to see the number of people in the operating room and watching who does what and how they interact as a team.

Relich took the class because she thought she might be interested in a career in medicine and wanted to learn more about it. She recommends that anyone even a little interested in medicine take the course. Now considering a career as a nurse anesthetist, Relich said she thinks she will take anatomy and physiology II.

Gunther said the anatomy and physiology II course is really a medical mentoring program. Students in the class work with a mentor outside the classroom for a minimum of 72 hours. Depending on what field of medicine captures a student's interest, they may work with medical professionals at places like Washington Hospital, Canonsburg Hospital, local veterinary clinics or pharmacies, or various private practices. Gunther said the mentorship really depends on what the student wants. As an example, she said one student was interested in a possible career in head trauma, so he did his mentorship at Allegheny General's ER neurology unit.

Prior to working in a medical setting, students spend time in class reviewing CPR and the rules and regulations related to patient care, including patient confidentiality and legal issues. Students also work on their resume and interview skills before meeting with their prospective mentor. Gunther said she has the students treat the assignment as they would a job. She explained they have to get their own directions to work and interview with a prospective mentor. Once in the field, students are required to keep a journal recording their hours and what they do each day.

Pat Wolf, a research assistant at Allegheny General Hospital, works with schools to provide area students with the open heart surgery observation opportunity. For the past year and a half, students from western Pennsylvania have been able to watch open heart surgery in the hospital's observation room.

Wolf said the popular program was the idea of Dr. George Magovern, Jr., Chairman, Allegheny Health Network Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, Professor, Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery, Drexel University College of Medicine. She said Magovern wanted to give students the opportunity not only to see open heart surgery, but to let them discover the different careers in medicine. He wants them to realize how important it is to study biology, chemistry, and physics, since these disciplines will help make them better informed adults said Wolf.

To read more, visit the Almanac web site.

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